Monday, August 11, 2003

CATONSVILLE, Md. — When the Rev. Steven R. Randall learned that his denomination had consented to the first openly homosexual bishop in mainline Protestantism, he decided he could no longer trust the Episcopal Church and its leaders.

Mr. Randall, 52, received a standing ovation yesterday after telling his 200-member congregation at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church here that he would no longer obey his bishop nor would his congregation send its monthly $5,000 pledge to the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

Yesterday was the first Sunday since the ratification of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson as the bishop of New Hampshire, and Mr. Randall’s word to his parish was delivered at the end of a week of rumblings and walkouts by disenchanted Episcopal clergy and laity.

“I’m not offering my resignation,” he said. “But I can no longer submit to our bishops. I will be removed in time by the authorities of this church.”

Besides the ratification of Mr. Robinson, the triennial convention of the 2.3-million-member Episcopal Church gave each diocese the option to conduct “blessings” of same-sex unions.

Comparing the denomination to a hijacked airliner, Mr. Randall said the Episcopal Church “will carry more people to hell than it will save. It is a flying coffin doomed to destruction and despair.”

“People will say I am just bailing out, but I am following God’s call as best I can. I don’t have a golden parachute. I will lose my pension, insurance, paycheck and all my benefits.”

The Episcopal Church requires its priests to obey its bishops. If not, a priest is “inhibited,” an ecclesiastical term meaning he can no longer preside at his parish nor perform clerical functions.

Bishop Robert W. Ihloff of Maryland, who was not aware of Mr. Randall’s announcement when reached at his home, said he would meet this week with the priest.

“I think there is a lot of work to be done there pastorally as well as professionally,” he said. “It’s a conservative congregation, so this does not surprise me. It has been one torn by strife and a lot of conservative feeling over the years.”

For legal reasons, Mr. Randall and other disaffected clergy are not simply walking out en masse.

But around the country, conservative Episcopalians dispatched hundreds of e-mail messages urging one another to either boycott church yesterday or wear black ribbons. Members of St. Timothy’s cloaked the church’s roadside sign in black. The interior of St. Timothy’s was covered with purple hangings, signifying mourning and penitence.

Paul Willis, senior warden at St. Timothy’s who joined in the standing ovation at the conclusion of the 40-minute sermon, said the vestry, a 12-member governing board, backs Mr. Randall.

“I cannot express how much admiration I have for our rector,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Concord, N.H., Mr. Robinson was greeted by hugs and handshakes of hundreds of parishioners at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, his home parish.

“New Hampshire has never looked so good,” Mr. Robinson said. The Associated Press reported, however, that several families have left St. Paul’s in protest.

Yesterday at the National Cathedral, Washington Bishop John B. Chane told reporters that the decision to confirm Mr. Robinson’s election had been “centered in prayer” and that before voting, bishops had been “anointed” with holy oil as an aid for decision making. “I’ve never prayed this much in my life,” he said. The anointing “was an unbelievably powerful experience.”

However, many of the world’s Anglican prelates have denounced the actions of U.S. Episcopalians, and Rowan Williams, who as the archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican communion, has scheduled a mid-October meeting of the archbishops of the world’s 38 Anglican provinces, of which the United States is one. One possibility is a split within the 70-million-member Communion.

“I was delighted Rowan called the [archbishops] together,” Bishop Chane said. “I don’t see this as an action to punish the church in the United States.”

Asked whether the election of Mr. Robinson — who divorced his wife in 1987 and left his family and later met his lover, Mark Andrew — means that now a heterosexual priest or bishop could have a live-in female lover, he did not answer directly. “Gene Robinson has been in a committed relationship for years,” he said. “It was a relationship that was blessed at some point.”

Elsewhere in the Washington area, parishioners at Truro Episcopal Church, a large parish in Fairfax, met yesterday afternoon to sign a “statement of disassociation,” separating themselves from the votes at the General Convention. The Rev. Martyn Minns, rector of Truro, reported that some parishioners had left his church because of the matter.

The Rev. John Yates, pastor of the Falls Church, the largest Episcopal congregation in the Diocese of Virginia, said parish leaders are “re-evaluating” whether to keep giving several hundred thousand dollars worth of yearly contributions to the diocese.

Diocesan Bishop Peter Lee and the majority of lay deputies from Virginia voted in favor of Mr. Robinson.

“We are very concerned about the position our diocesan representatives have taken,” Mr. Yates said. “We will be carefully watching to see what guidance our bishop gives us.”

Neither of the two Northern Virginia parishes plans to withdraw from the Episcopal body, their pastors said. The Falls Church, founded in 1732 in the city of Falls Church, predates the Diocese of Virginia. Churches built before the founding of their dioceses have some legal grounds allowing them to keep their property should they decide to bolt the denomination.

The flood of denunciations from Anglican churches worldwide continued yesterday, with the head of Kenya’s Anglican Church saying yesterday that it might cut ties with U.S. Episcopalians.

“We are thinking of that,” Benjamin Nzimbi, archbishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya, told Reuters news agency. “Those who are not abiding by the regulations, the tradition and the natural way of doing things are kicking themselves out of the communion.”

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